WANDERING I

Wandering is Zhuangzi’s paramount metaphor for the freedom of the sage. The image is so packed with suggested meanings that it is difficult to know where to begin.

Let us begin then with the most mundane—that it is mundane. Comparison with however we might imagine “enlightenment” suffices to demonstrate this. When it comes to so-called spiritual awakening, Zhuangzi seems to have set his sights relatively low. This, of course, is because the entirety of his project turns on his commitment to responding to life as it presents, not as we might wish it to be. This is summed up in the exhortation: “Add nothing to the process of life.”

Wandering then takes place in this world and within the givens of our experience. No extra-mundane realities are posited or required.

There’s something liberating in this alone. An imagined “enlightenment”, the realization of some incredible state of being, is an invitation to mount a treadmill of perpetual aspiration and self-denial. Zhuangzi’s wandering seems to be saying, forget all that; just enjoy yourself in the moment, just as you are.

Since we are typically attached and fixed to some one place, some merely “temporary lodging” that we insist on calling home, there is also work to be done here too, of course. However, since there’s no fixed state to achieve, nowhere else we need to go, wandering, as merely an attitude, a psychological orientation, is always ready at hand.

Wandering requires no change, because everything is an occasion for wandering.

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